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A TV commercial for online poker site Pokerstars has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after the watchdog upheld a complaint about the ad’s portrayal of reckless gambling.

The ASA told Pokerstars that the ad must not appear again in its current form after it objected to the manner in which the spot portrayed bluffing, which the watchdog said implied that inexperienced players could easily excel at the game.

In the spot, a man sits with a group of friends playing an casual game of Texas hold ’em, attempting to keep his cool at a crucial point of the game, while a voiceover delivers a rousing speech.

The narrator tells viewers that they can draw on ordinary situations to help them keep a ‘poker face’ – pointing to the white lies they tell each other and themselves about their lapsed fitness regimes, stymied literary prowess and negligible DIY skills with the message that ‘If you can bluff yourself, you can bluff anyone.’ The spot concludes with a shot of the main character staking all his winnings on a single hand, while the narrator tells viewers: ‘You are already a great poker player.’

The ASA began investigating after receiving a complaint which challenged whether the ad exploited new poker players by suggesting that they could quickly amass large winnings by bluffing like the ad’s main character. The watchdog said that viewers would assume that the game played on screen involved prize money, and that “the ad would be interpreted by viewers to mean that they could make large winnings by making big ‘all in’ bluffs based solely on their experience of bluffing in real life without any experience of playing poker.”

The ASA said that, while they understood that bluffing was a normal part of poker, the ad's message that bluffing could be successfully attempted without any understanding of poker was reckless and portrayed gambling behavior “in a manner that could lead to financial harm.”

For its part, Pokerstars defended the commercial on the grounds that the ad did not explicitly show money being won or wagered, and that bluffing was ‘not a reckless act in itself’ given that it was an inherent part of many card games. The spot, which was produced by Insurrection for Pokerstars’ agency Romance, appeared in October last year.

The ruling comes amid closer monitoring of the gambling industry by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), which published updated guidelines to clamp down on bad gambling ad practices. The CAP, which is the sister group to the ASA, laid down the new standards after a series of recommendations from the government.